Comet C/2022 E3, visible to the naked eye, has been causing a stir in 2023 so far. On Sunday (February 5), skywatchers who haven’t spotted the bright comet yet will have the perfect opportunity to do so as it passes Capella’s Star, also known as the “Star of the Goat”.
Capella, which means “goat” in Latin, also has the alternative name “Alpha Aurigae” due to the fact that it is the brightest star in the northern constellation Auriga, the Rider. In addition to this, Capella is also the sixth brightest star in the sky above Earth. However, it drops to seventh place if the sun is included in this ranking.
This makes Goat Star, which is visible on winter evenings, a great help in finding C/2022 E3 (ZTF). In winter, a golden star appears high in the sky in the late evening.
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C/2022 E3 (ZTF) entered the constellation Auriga, Auriga on Wednesday (February 1), just as it was approaching Earth, or perigee. The comet has a period of 50,000 years, which means that the last time it came this close to Earth, our planet was in the midst of an ice age, or “ice age,” and early Homo sapiens shared its surface with the Neanderthals.
To find the comet from New York, look north in the evening hours after sunset and look for Auriga. Capella will become the brightest star in the constellation.
(Image credit: Starry Night)
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will be in close proximity to the Capella on Sunday (February 5) and Monday (February 6) evenings, although it will move slightly away from the star by Monday.
The comet may be visible to the naked eye in some areas of the dark sky, although any details will be difficult to make out. Through binoculars, skywatchers should be able to see the faint greenish glow of the comet’s coma. Even more detail should be visible through a telescope, depending on equipment and skill.
(Image credit: TheSkyLive.com)
Although Capella may appear to the naked eye as a single star in the night sky, it is actually composed of a system of four stars located about 42 light-years from Earth; two systems containing large double stars and two faint double dwarf stars.
One of the binary systems, the primary star or star “A” of the Capella system, consists of Capella Aa and Capella Ab, both giant yellow stars with masses of about 2.5 times the Sun, and they are coming to the end of their natural life after exhausting the hydrogen in their core, fuel for nuclear fusion. This caused them to grow about 10 times the size of the Sun.
Capella’s secondary binary is Capella H and Capella L, both small and relatively cool red dwarfs located about 10,000 astronomical units (AU) from the larger binary, with 1 AU equivalent to the distance between the Sun and the Earth.
Following this C/2022 E3 (ZTF) encounter with Goat Star Capella, the green comet will visit Mars and should be visible near the Red Planet from Thursday (February 9) for four days until February. 13.
If you’re hoping to catch C/2022 E3 (ZTF) when he visits Capella, our guide to the best telescopes and best binoculars is a great place to start. If you want to photograph a green comet, check out our guide on how to view and photograph comets, as well as our best cameras for astrophotography and the best lenses for astrophotography.
Editor’s Note: If you are filming C/2022 E3 near the Capella and would like to share it with Space.com readers, please send your photos, comments, name and location to spacephotos@.
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